A FORMER IRA man who shot dead Detective Garda Seamus Quaid in 1980 claims Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and the North's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness ordered him to transport explosives to the UK two days before the murder.
The claims will come as a major embarrassment for Sinn Fein and emerge as the party finds itself at the centre of a political storm over a secret deal between the British government and fugitive IRA activists, following the collapse of the trial of Hyde Park bombing suspect John Downey.
In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Peter Rogers, who served 18 years of a life sentence for Det Gda Quaid's murder, told how he met Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness in the sports ground of Trinity College Dublin on October 11, 1980.
Two days later his van was stopped by Det Gda Quaid and his colleague, Donal Lyttleton, late at night on a road near the Ballyconnick quarry in Wexford.
As the detectives searched the van, Rogers pulled out a gun and, in an exchange of fire, shot Det Gda Quaid, who lay bleeding on the ground. The father of two died 15 minutes later.
The detectives knew Rogers was an IRA man, but did not know he was transporting explosives at the time. They were responding to an alert after the IRA robbed two banks in Callan, Co Kilkenny, earlier that day.
At the time of the shooting, Rogers says he had been working as a "logistics" man for the IRA, moving weapons and "personnel" between Rosslare, Wales and France.
He worked for a while on the Brittany ferry before setting up his own parcel delivery service, partly as a cover for his IRA activities.
In October 1980, he became concerned that explosives he was ordered to transport to England for a bombing campaign were in a dangerous state. After he refused to move the explosives because of his concerns, Rogers says he was ordered to come to Dublin, where he met with Adams and McGuinness.
Rogers told the Sunday Independent: "I was summonsed to Dublin as to find out why there was a delay in moving stuff. It was the stuff that I was caught with.
"I was extremely unhappy about it. The explosives was weeping and there was a heavy smell of marzipan off it. You daren't touch it, but your hands were soaking wet with the nitroglycerine coming off it. It was dangerous, highly dangerous.
"I didn't want to move it for the simple reason I was afraid, number one, of losing the route into England and I was also afraid that if it was compromised that the active service unit might have been caught in England.
"It was supposed to have been gone on a couple of occasions but different circumstances didn't allow for it and one of the main ones was the condition the explosives was in." During the Seventies almost 100 IRA members were killed while moving or making bombs, and Rogers would have been well aware of the dangers.
Rogers said he was summoned to meet Adams and McGuinness because "they were in charge of operations".
He recalled: "It was the afternoon. There was a rugby match going on at the time. It was October. I let them know I wasn't happy. The reason that the stuff hadn't been moved before then was that I wasn't happy with the condition of it and I was looking for it to be replaced.
"They stepped back from me and they had a bit of a conflab and I was out of earshot. Then they came back and said it wasn't feasible to get any new stuff."
Rogers said they then ordered him to transport the explosives, despite the dangers involved.
Describing the explosives, he said: "It's dynamite, but in the state it was in it was more or less nitroglycerine you are moving. Had I had time I was going to doctor it. I was going to try and encase it in moulding clay and sawdust."
Sinn Fein refused to respond to a series of detailed questions arising out of Peter Rogers's claims over the past three weeks.
Last Tuesday morning the Sunday Independent approached Gerry Adams – who has denied ever being a member of the IRA – on the plinth of Leinster House as he concluded a press conference over the controversy on claims made by garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe in relation to An Garda Siochana.
When asked to respond to the claim that he and Martin McGuinness met with Rogers two days before Det Gda Quaid's murder, Mr Adams said: "I have no recollection of that whatsoever."
When it was put to Mr Adams that he had given Rogers the order to transport those explosives, he replied: "That's not true." When the question was put to the Sinn Fein president again, he repeated: "That's not true."
At that point, Mr Adams brought the exchange to an abrupt end and went inside Leinster House.
Under the regulations set down by the House of the Oireachtas, members of the media are specifically prohibited from conducting or attempting to conduct interviews with politicians inside Leinster House without first obtaining permission.
We were reminded by Sinn Fein party press officers of this rule as we attempted to pursue him through the door of the Leinster House 2000 annexe which houses the offices of TDs and senators.
Repeated efforts by the Sunday Independent to elicit a response from Martin McGuinness in relation to Mr Rogers' claims through contacts with his private office at Stormont proved to be unsuccessful.
Rogers, who is now in his late 60s, says he decided to speak out because he was angered at what he described as the "insensitivity" of Sinn Fein's decision to hold its recent Ard Fheis in Wexford town. The decision prompted the family of Det Quaid, a local hero who represented Wexford in the 1960 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final, to have a memorial plaque to the slain garda removed from the Opera House.
Rogers wrote to the Quaid family and to Det Garda Lyttleton in 1989 to apologise for his actions. He said he left the IRA the day he delivered the letters to the then governor of Portlaoise Prison, John Lonergan.
He left the IRA wing in the prison and spent the remainder of his sentence serving time with, as he put it, "ODCs – ordinary decent criminals". He said he was badly beaten up by the IRA over his decision to break ranks and leave.
"I am extremely sorry that it happened," he said of the murder of Det Gda Quaid.
On Rogers's release in 1998 he moved his wife and son to Dundalk from Wexford as he did not want to cause further upset to the Quaid family, he said.
His marriage subsequently ended, and he now lives alone in Northern Ireland.
Rogers's decision to speak out against Adams and McGuinness will come as a severe embarrassment to the republican leadership as, even after the murder of Det Gda Quaid, Rogers was regarded as being 'legendary' within republican circles.
He was one of seven prisoners who broke out of the prison ship, the Maidstone, which was berthed in Belfast harbour in 1972, and swam to freedom across the Lagan in freezing conditions.
When asked what he thought of Gerry Adams's claim never to have been in the IRA and Martin McGuinness's claim to have left the organisation in 1974, Rogers said he believed they continue their denials on legal advice for fear of prosecution for war crimes.
He added: "It amazes me about Gerry. He made that statement himself, but for a man that was never in the IRA he seemed to dress up for every funeral that he went to in IRA regalia. What was that for, to impress people?
"I remember Gerry on one occasion. It was early in the campaign shortly after I joined and I was going down south to pick up stuff and Gerry happened to be in the same car, and we stopped off and he showed me a place, a little sweet shop, and the thing was if you have any trouble on the way up call in there and you'll be alright."
Despite his arrest and the seizure of the explosives, the IRA did mount a bombing campaign in Britain in 1981 to coincide with the Maze hunger strikes.
Five people were injured in May that year in bomb attacks on a Territorial Army base and a Royal Air Force base in west London. Two people, a 59-year-old widow and an 18-year-old Irishman working in London were killed in an attack on Chelsea Army barracks in October.